Villa Benkemoun Swirling 70s Architecture in Arles
Just four kilometres from the center of Arles sits the Villa Benkemoun, a magnificent estate designed by a disciple of the famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier. Visiting it is like stepping back in time.
The villa was the brainchild of Simone and Pierre Benkemoun, a couple that moved from Algeria to Arles in 1962. They worked hard to establish themselves there, and a decade later enlisted their friend Émile Sala to design their dream home. Sala, a native of Arles, took an unusual approach.
Designing the Villa
Instead of creating an initial set of architectural drawings, Sala began by asking the family to jot down, day by day, how they lived their lives. Where did they take their meals, how did they entertain, did they spend time indoors or out? Then he used this knowledge to design a home that fit their needs, as well as Pierre’s desire to have a home that was “open and transparent.”
The Benkemouns liked Sala’s initial design but thought it had too many sharp edges. They suggested rounding a corner here, creating a curve there, until the house took the form they wanted. The final design was made up of round and elliptical rooms, “full of sensuality,” that seemed to swirl from one to the other.
A Modern Masterpiece
The result is a triumph of 1970s design, a masterpiece of modern architecture. The home is large—500 square meters, with five bedrooms—and full of light. It wraps around a central courtyard and includes a pool and pool house on the one-hectare property.
The architectural features are delightful. There is a capsule-shaped bathroom, perfect for long soaks. A spectacular chrome-plated chimney hood cascades down above the fireplace, bringing to mind falling water. And the specially-designed ceramic floors invite barefoot walking on a hot summer day.
The couple filled the house with colourful avant-garde furniture, making it a true reflection of their time. They raised their family there and lived comfortably for many years. In 2015, in a rare honor, the villa was recognized by the French Ministry of Culture as “Heritage of the 20th Century.”
The Villa Benkemoun Today
By 2017 both Simone and Pierre had passed away. Their daughter Brigitte decided to refurbish the home and open it to the public, and after two years of work, the house was returned to its original glory. Most of the 1970s-era furniture was still in place and the missing pieces were replaced with others from that period. Today, visiting the villa is like stepping back in time, with orange chairs and all (leisure suits not included.)
The house is available to rent, for conferences or dinners or other special events. It also hosts art exhibitions and is occasionally open for tours. For those wishing to stay in a one-of-a-kind location, it is can be rented by the week.
Villa Benkemoun (website)
915 rue de la Batelle,
All photos of Villa Benkemoun © Serge Benkemoun